05 December 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: romain des grottes, saint-etienne-des-ouillières

The man standing there with the huge elderflower bush in his vines is Romain des Grottes. He's a métayer, or sharecropper, working 8ha vines belonging to the Château de Lacarelle in Saint-Etienne-des-Ouillières. Almost everything about that sentence is misleading, though.

The Château de Lacarelle belongs to des Grottes' grandfather, a peculiar situation that allows des Grottes considerably more creative leeway than most métayers. And his 8ha of vines is effectively 4ha, because since 2003 des Grottes has uprooted half the rows, planting cereals in the remaining spaces. He also works the soil less than many organic winemakers, content with a wilderness of grass cover that would make his elders blanche.

"I think I’m liberated from the tradition, because I never grew up here," admits des Grottes, who was born in Paris. "As much in the vines as in making the wine."

17 November 2016

yann bertrand's 1st beaujolais nouveau: "ptit bouchon"

Yann Bertrand with his demi-muid's of Beaujolais primeur
Fleurie's Yann Bertrand made a Beaujolais Nouveau this year from fruit purchased from Charentay vigneron Romain Jambon. It's stellar - a long, 16-day maceration yielded a sinuous, impossibly bright wine, with vigorous raspberry fruit. The quantity is minuscule, something like 2600 bottles. 

What makes the wine groundbreaking is Bertrand's decision not to filter it. He rightly figured that, given the tiny production, his primeur would be drunk in Fleurie, in Lyon, and at furthest, Paris. Little would be risked by avoiding filtration. For good measure, he took the unusual step putting the primeur in demi-muid for two weeks before bottling, so that the wine could clarify itself more quickly than it would have in tank. 

Almost no one releases unfiltered Beaujolais Nouveau. Off the top of my head, I can think of only Max Breton* and Romain des Grottes**, both of whose unfiltered primeurs are, incidentally, terrific. (Oh! And Marcel Joubert.)

10 November 2016

beaujolais harvests 2016

Max Breton's team at the end of day in his old vines at Saint Joseph in Morgon.

Anything I post on the blog right now will rightfully be drowned out by the post-election din, i.e. the anguished, horrified screams of anyone with even a passing, sentimental attachment to democracy in America.

But with the third week of November approaching fast, I thought I'd dash out some notes on another pressing issue, the year's Beaujolais vintage.

27 October 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: christophe pacalet, cercié

Négoçiants tend to suffer from an enthusiasm gap among wine drinkers. Compared with the vigneron who grows the grapes he or she turns into wine, the arts of the négoçiant can seem coldly mercantile. Few are more aware of this dynamic than Christophe Pacalet, whose business remains inextricably linked, for many wine drinkers, with that of his late uncle, Morgon vigneron Marcel Lapierre, who helped Pacalet set up his business in 1999.

Pacalet today produces a broad range of wines from purchased grapes, encompassing seven of the ten crus of Beaujolais, along with a Beaujolais Blanc, a primeur, and, from the 2015 vintage, two cuvées of Beaujolais-Villages. The bottles almost all bear similar, slightly anonymizing labels, which, along with Pacalet's formidable market presence in the USA and Japan, bely his business' fundamentally small-scale, artisanal nature. Pacalet harvests all the grapes with his own team, pressing in an old wooden vertical press, vinifying in restored wooden tanks. Most cuvées see aging in old barrels, many sourced from Pacalet's renowned cousin, the Burgundy négoçiant Philippe Pacalet.

On the day I first visited in October 2015, most of that year's wines had already been barreled. Moreso even than the aromas of fermenting gamay, what filled the cellar that afternoon was Christophe's excitement with several of his new fruit sources that year: a Chénas and a Saint Amour. "I just got the analyses back, and the Chénas has finished its sugar," he declared. "So this will be interesting! Let's taste it!"

11 October 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: sylvère trichard & elodie bouvard (séléné), blacé

I first heard of Blacé-based Beaujolais vigneron Sylvère Trichard while putting together Paris By Mouth's annual "Beaujolais Nouveau in Paris" round-up a few years ago. I remember being surprised that an unknown vigneron had - all of a sudden, it seemed - placed his primeur alongside those of the region's great winemakers at many of Paris' best Beaujolais bistrots.

It took me a while to connect his name with his wine labels, which bear the domaine name Séléné. I learned only much later that Séléné is in fact a joint enterprise between Trichard and his business partner Elodie Bouvard, who runs a small organic vegetable farm at the domaine.

When the intitial Séléné vintages first appeared in Paris, they landed with a splash before, well, sinking. Nowadays Trichard admits that his trial-and-error approach was quite evident in his early vintages, which were often marred by bret. But the same dynamism, devotion, and intelligence that earned Trichard his initial clients in Paris have since seen his winemaking improve by leaps and bounds: the wines are now as charming as their labels. His (bret-free) 2015 old-vine Beaujolais tout court cuvée "Gisou" is a benchmark for the sector, as refined and complex a wine as it is possible to find south of Saint-Etienne-des-Oullières, outside the -Villages appellation.

09 September 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: jérome balmet, vaux-en-beaujolais

The tiny cellar space that Balmet shared with his father until this year.

Conventional wisdom of Beaujolais geography places the highest, most dramatic slopes in the granite soil crus clustered in the north of the region, with the landscape becoming gentler as one travels south towards the limestone hillsides of the Pierres Dorées. This is true in a general sense, but it overlooks certain notable high-altitude sites. The picturesque village of Oingt in the south is one. Then, southwest of the Brouilly appellation, there is Vaux-en-Beaujolais, a towering granite hill, the home of promising natural winemaker Jerôme Balmet.

From 2012 - 2015, Balmet shared a tiny cellar space with his dad, making a tiny, untaxable amount of wine from just 1.2ha of vines. Until now there has officially been just one red cuvée, bottled as Vin de France, and a small amount of rosé, plus a few magnums of stellar old-vine press-juice that were never commercially available.

In 2016, Balmet is joining the big(ger) leagues. As of January he took on the lease of 2.5ha of gently sloped vines near Saint-Etienne-des-Oullières, formerly tended by fellow natural winemaker Raphael Champier. He'll also begin vinifying at the facilities of the Château de Lacarelle, which owns the vines. This puts him in good company, alongside like-minded confrères like Romain des Grottes and Stephen Durieu de Lacarelle, who together comprise a fascinating nest of promising young natural winemakers at the château.

07 September 2016

bait and switch: traiteur ô divin, 75019

When I spoke to Ô Divin Epicerie proprietor Naoufel Zaïm last January, he mentioned he'd soon be turning a nearby defunct clothing shop into a take-out stand offering hot meals.

A transition to take-out cuisine would seem a timely move in the gold-rush era of Deliveroo, UberEats, Take Eat Easy, Foodora, Allo Resto, etc.  If I myself have yet to employ any of those delivery services, it's because in Paris the food they deliver tends to derive from one of two, rather stunted categories of establishment: bad take-out stands offering office-lunch fare, or decent restaurants that nonetheless perceptibly deprioritize take-out cuisine. The Parisian attachment to dining-out is such that there are almost no excellent establishments devoted to take-out dinners in the city.

Traiteur Ô Divin, in an amusing bait-and-switch, is not poised to change this situation - for, despite the name, Traiteur Ô Divin both resembles and functions very much like a wine bar.* Instead of the heaps of pre-prepped cuisine and the fortified cash-register one might expect from a take-out stand, there's a long, spacious bar and seating along the walls. There's an keen selection of natural wines familiar from Zaïm's previous establishments. The cuisine - which ranges from roast chicken to middle-eastern-inflected salads - is available to take-away or to consume on-site. The result is kind of a category unto itself - an odd cross between rue de la Roquette's Chez Aline and rue Sainte Marthe's La Cave à Michel. In short, the new traiteur is a splendid place for an apéro when one is tasked with bringing dinner home.

22 August 2016

n.d.p. in lyon: le fleurie, 69007

Far-flung Lyonnais wine bistrot Le Fleurie exists in a wonderful parallel universe where the old Léon Daudet chestnut - that Beaujolais wine comprises the “third river” nourishing Lyon, after the Rhône and the Saône - still rings true.

Le Fleurie’s cuisine is solid and satisfying and co-proprietor Jacinthe Gomes’ concise, inspired wine list is the model of what a fine Lyonnais list should like: reds divided evenly between Beaujolais and the northern Rhône, with whites deriving mainly from Burgundy, the Mâconnais, with a dab of Rhône. Classic selections all, and at great prices!

Yet the fact remains that the population of Lyon, at time of writing, famously prefers almost anything to Beaujolais, and tends instead to identify with Rhône wines. Just why is a matter of speculation, into which I’m happy to delve at length later. For now, another fact remains: most people are idiots. Most Lyonnais, most French, most Americans, most drinkers, most humans. The rest of us are happy to go out of our way for lunch at Le Fleurie.

12 August 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: l'auberge du moulin, saint-didier-sur-chalaronne

During les trentes glorieuses - the thirty-year heyday of post-war French economic expansion, roughly the late forties through the late seventies - the D906 from Mâcon to Lyon was perennially swarmed with vacationing families and business travelers, who provided a steady clientele for restaurants like Paul Blanc’s Le Chapon Blanc in Thoissey (closed: 2004). Such restaurants have since gone the way of most tourism in the surrounding Beaujolais countryside, succumbing, variously, to the construction of the A6 autoroute, the rise of low-cost airlines permitting cheap pan-European travel, and the Lyonnais population’s notorious (and not-so-mysterious) turn away from Beaujolais wine in the 1990’s. In many towns, all that remain nowadays are cheap roadside PMU’s, often housed in stone buildings bearing sun-bleached, elegiac paint advertisements for the region’s disappeared gastronomic restaurants.

I was therefore overjoyed the other evening to visit L’Auberge du Moulin, a shady terrace that offers, just off the roadside in the sleepy, mouthful town of Saint-Didier-sur-Chalaronne, an immaculately preserved throwback to the fine regional cuisine of yesteryear. The restaurant is acclaimed among local vignerons for its sharp Beaujolais-Maconnais wine list, its delicate fried fish, and its heaping portions of whole frogs.

Yet over a round of eau de vie, long after sundown when mosquitos began urging everyone homewards, I was dismayed to learn that L’Auberge du Moulin, too, will soon close. From September, iron-haired owner Patrick Piron will convert the restaurant, which presently offers lunch and dinner service and one rentable room, into a table d’hôte offering four rooms and private meal service by request. I may be getting distraught over what is merely a modification in service-style, but the fact is that the restaurant, already rather hidden, will become almost imperceptible. And this is indeed a shame, for like its only nearby peer, the Auberge du Col du Truges in Villié-Morgon, L’Auberge du Moulin is a moving demonstration of the heights of Beaujolais cuisine.

27 July 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: jean-françois promonet, leynes

Complaining is a national pastime throughout France, along with labour strikes, cigarette-smoking, and pétanque. Vignerons, whose livelihoods are utterly dependent upon climatic forces beyond their control, have throughout the generations developed their own nuanced sub-genre of fatalistic groaning, comparable to that which wizened sailors practice regarding the fickleness of the sea.

Yet even in this context of universal grievance, Leynes vigneron Jean-François Promonet stands alone.

An expert mechanic specialising agricultural machines, he has long roots in the Beaujolais and Maconnais, and as he tells it, he arrived at his present, tenuous situation of quasi-vigneronnage on the dangerously steep hillsides of Leynes almost against his will, through a series of misfortunes. Nowadays he speaks of his soaring, wind-swept old-vine granite vineyards the way Ahab spoke of the white whale, with the same mixture of devotion and loathing.

02 June 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: hervé ravera, marchampt

My time in Beaujolais has left me with a strong distaste for the appellation of Beaujolais-Villages. Not for the wines themselves, of course. Just the appellation, its haziness. It began well enough, in 1946, when it was decreed that certain communes could append their names to the basic appellation of Beaujolais. But a later decree in 1950 created the blanket appellation Beaujolais-Villages - a designation that might as well have been conceived expressly to play down the influence of terroir in the region.

The -Villages designation was once useful for allowing large-scale négoçiant enterprises to indicate mainly granite-soil, gobelet-trained fruit sourced from throughout the region at large. But these companies set the market expectation, such that it's now rare to find vignerons who take advantage of the 1946 decree to promote their individual commune's terroir: Beauojolais-Lancié, Beaujolais-Quincié, or Beaujolais-Marchampt, for example. It's a shame, because the traditionally vinified wines of individual Beaujolais communes do indeed possess a character all their own. Where Quincié B-V often tends toward the rusticity and richness of nearby Régnié, Marchampt B-V is unique in its altitudinous, high mountain fruit.

Hervé Ravera, a sulfur-free natural winemaker who set up shop in Marchampt in 2007, avoids the appellation system altogether, bottling his tiny Beaujolais-Villages production as Vin de France. Ironically, alongside those of his neighbor Nicolas Chemarin, Ravera's wines are just about the purest expression of Marchampt terroir available today.

23 May 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: justin dutraive, fleurie

"It's not very charming, as a terroir," says young Fleurie vigneron Justin Dutraive, as we tramp down a muddy path to the 8000m of Beaujolais vines he began leasing in 2015. "But it was a good terroir to start: all flat, very mechanizable, with low rent. And no one wanted to take it, so it was going to be uprooted otherwise."

Dutraive isn't being modest. The parcel from which he produced his first wine in 2015 hugs the Duboeuf-dominated village of Maison Blanche so closely it practically constitutes urban farming. To the south is a copse of trees and a stream; to the east, train tracks; to the west, a cornfield. To the north is the Hotel Les Maritonnes. "In the summer, when you're on the tractor, you stare at the pool," jokes Dutraive.

From this unlikely patch of what is known locally as "corn terroir," Dutraive produced a powerful Beaujolais tout-court as well as a pétillant-naturel. The parcel's poor drainage and proximity to the stream paid off in 2015's scorching dry-spell: he brought in a solid 42HL/ha. Less bountiful, but no less notable, was the micro-parcel of Fleurie "Chapelle des Bois" he also vinified that year. Just two barrels were produced, a small but very successful addition to his family's renowned range of wines from the cru.

12 May 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: julien merle & nathalie banes, legny

Entering southern Beaujolais winemaker Julien Merle's cellar in Legny, I noted the low wooden ceilings above the cement vats and asked if he'd ever had issues with brettonamyces developing in tank. (Bret - the wild yeast often responsible for horsey aromas in wine - has been known to inhabit wood, sometimes causing entire cellars to be razed and reconstructed.) Merle shook his head.

"I think finally the bret is more of a worry for the vineyards higher up in Beaujolais, because the plants are very low," he explained. "We have the plants much higher, it’s cordon trained."

Cordon-training in the crus of Beaujolais is relatively rare - almost all vines are in traditional gobelet training, closer to the earth, where bret is said to reside. Few great vignerons in the crus cordon-train their vines, considering it anathema to quality-minded viticulture. If it's a cliché that many winemakers insist 'there are no rules' governing the production of great wine, it's because of seeming contradictions like this: in viticulture as in vinification, things go topsy-turvy as one travels between regions, or as here, between sub-regions of the same region. In Legny, on the faultline between the granite of north of Beaujolais and the clay-limestone of the south, Julien Merle is making stunningly pure and sturdy wines of the sort that renew my confidence that Beaujolais is worth a book-length study. And he does it by adapting the insights of natural-wine pioneers to the north to his own unique circumstances in the south.

02 May 2016

addicted: drogheria italiana, 75011

Few industries are as plagued with inefficiencies as that of Italian specialty shops in Paris. Prices are often rapacious. And queues are often interminable, due to the hellish combination of a) widespread French unfamiliarity with even the most basic Italian foodstuffs, and b) the tendency of Italian purveyors of foodstuffs to natter on endlessly with each under-informed client. Many shops further restrict their clientele by offering opening hours that prioritise siestas. On the occasions I actually enter an Italian specialty shop in Paris, I usually exit soon after, irritated and empty-handed.

Strolling away, mentally revising whatever dinner menu I had in mind, I find myself looking forward to the semi-apocalyptic event that will occur among Italian specialty stores in Paris in 2018, when upscale Italian supermarket juggernaut Eataly is slated to open. Eataly is not cheap, of course, but in my experience the chain's quality standards are high; its product selection is immense; and on principles of economic scale alone it should be able to undercut just about everyone. This is the only instance I can think of - besides Uber and, to some extent, Amazon - where I actually support the idea of a multinational chain disrupting a heterogenous community of small purveyors. The small purveyors of Italian foodstuffs in Paris need to work faster, sell more, and stop overcharging. Never again, I hope, will I pay 7€ for a small jar of chili flakes. (This actually happened at a shop on rue Saint Maur.)

Anyway, on Judgment Day of Italian Specialty Shops in Paris, Charonne-area épicerie Drogheria Italiana will be spared annihilation. The chili flakes are more reasonable, and, far more importantly, the épicerie serves, at just six window-facing counter seats, the city's most addictive* pizza.

27 April 2016

the f word: the curse of filtration

A kieselguhr filtration system.

I love natural wine. But I understand why the phrase "natural wine" and the sulfur discussion it entails can sometimes infuriate even its own supporters. In natural wine circles, the wine conversation has become so fixated on sulfur that other, equally fundamental questions are often getting overlooked. I refer mainly to the F-word: filtration.

I've been perplexed to see journalists and sommeliers I respect embracing filtered natural wines. And I was recently disappointed when one of my favorite wine writers, New York Times critic Eric Asimov, in his recent blind tasting of 2014 Morgon and Fleurie, duly quoted Kermit Lynch - the original champion of unfiltered wines - before awarding the two highest scores to plainly filtered wines.

To be fair, blind tastings are tough.* Beaujolais, and gamay overall, begins with a reputation for lightness, which might cause some tasters to presume a filtered wine is naturally light. But one of the more noble challenges of wine appreciation lies in preserving one's palate from habituation to technological shortcuts in vinification. This includes filtration, no less than sulfur overdoses or lab-cultured yeasts. In each instance, the potential quality of a wine is being sacrificed for the sake of a regularity more amenable to industrial distribution norms. The fact is that Kermit's 1980's crusade against wine filtration is still relevant today - particularly with regards to gamay, which seems to lose more from filtration than many other red varieties. Filtration of gamay is stylistically determinative: once you become attuned to it in a wine, it's as obvious as the difference between the burnish of real wood and the sheen of a plastic substitute.

25 April 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: xavier benier, saint-julien

Saint-Julien vigneron and négoçiant Xavier Benier has long been an enigma to me. His unsulfured, unfiltered range of wines are well-represented around Paris, and nearly always offer excellent value for money. But for various reasons Benier's winemaking defies easy categorisation. The wine range seems to change every year; he has no website; the labels are a heterogenous hodgepodge; and Benier himself doesn't quite belong to any particular social group of like-minded winemakers, à la the 'Microscope Gang' of Villié-Morgon, or the wayward cult gathered around Philippe Jambon up north.

Until my visit to his cuvage last October, I didn't really know what to make of Benier.

I was to learn that part of the distance between Benier and his peers is merely geographic. Saint-Julien is quite far removed from the crus; it lies where the granite of Beaujolais-Villages cedes to the clay-limestone of Beaujolais tout court. Habitation is sparser and many mustard-yellow buildings evidence the proximity of the quarries of the pierres dorées. Benier is from Saint-Julien, and in something like the way libertarianism increases as one heads into the emptiness of the western US, his character reflects his surroundings, evincing a fierce independence that belies his diminutive, office-clerk figure. Over a glass of his remarkably good négoçiant Régnié, in the course of an anecdote about a dispute with the appellation, he'll casually recall arming himself with a sledgehammer.

18 April 2016

the grown-ups' table: le petit keller, 75011

If I were ten years younger, I'd probably spend a lot of time on rue Keller. Recent years have seen a cornucopia of earnest young bars and restaurants open on this Voltaire-area side street, some pristine and intelligent (Aux Deux Cygnes), others less so (Barcardi Mojito Lab). I'd dig rue Keller's slew of vintage boutiques, book shops, and records shops, and the curious contrast between the innocence of these endeavors and the heavily-armed soldiers patrolling the street for the safety of its most famous and incongruous resident, Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

As things stand in this lifetime, however, I haven't spent much time on rue Keller. I do most of my shopping on Amazon, and when I dine out, I seem to gravitate towards businesses run by my elders. My reasoning for the latter is simple: I have more to learn from them. Paris' younger bars and bistrots can blur together at times, particularly if, as is often the case, they're sourcing their wines from the same handful of agents.

But now rue Keller, too, is growing up. The celebrated Franco-Japanese chef Kaori Endo (ex-Nanashi, ex-Rose Bakery) and her husband, the hyper-discreet O.G. natural wine caviste Michael Lemasle (Crus et Découvertes), have transformed quaint bistrot Le Petit Keller into something new and intriguing in the Paris restaurant scene. With ambitious opening hours, refined cuisine drawing equally on western health-consciousness and eastern home-cooking, and a smart natural wine list, the new Le Petit Keller is a savvy small-plates restaurant that dials down the masculine indulgence of the format without sacrificing an iota of sophistication.

13 April 2016

sign of the times: jones, 75011

When the partners involved in Voltaire gastronome-magnet Restaurant Bones decided to go their separate ways last summer, remaining co-owner and Père Populaire kingpin Florent Ciccoli considered selling the business. Instead, after what seemed like months of faintly dubious "close-out" sales of the restaurant's wine cellar, Ciccoli decided to hop in the kitchen himself and reopen the restaurant with a very, very slight name change.

It's a daring move for a number of reasons, not least because very few chefs would relish withstanding direct comparison with the sophisticated culinary highs of previous chef James Henry. But a flair for improvisation has long been both the Pères Populaires group's greatest asset and its most wobbly liability.

For anyone wondering, Ciccoli's cuisine at the newly-rebaptised restaurant Jones does not withstand direct comparison to Henry's at Bones. But nor should it. Jones succeeds most convincingly where it departs most from the former restaurant's blueprint. Gone is Bones' sometimes churlish service; gone is the maximalist glass-pour selection; gone are set-menus and mandatory reservations. What one finds in place of these things is an inviting and unpretentious spot for free-form, last-minute dinners, enlivened by an undiminished natural wine list and, one presumes, many of the former restaurant's product purveyors. The populist format fits the times: the citizens of Paris' 11ème arrondissement can be proud that, in 2016, things like skin-macerated Savoie wines and fish heads have become almost mainstream.

01 April 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: domaine leonis (raphael champier & cristelle lucca), villié-morgon

Odenas-born natural vigneron Raphael Champier decamped to a fixer-upper house and cellar on the outskirts of Villié-Morgon late last year. When I visited him and his girlfriend-slash-business partner Cristelle Lucca in January I asked him how he liked it in his new neighborhood, which is famously home to Beaujolais' most significant concentration of natural winemakers.

"Well," he said, scratching his head. "It's more complicated to go work in the vines."

The couples vines are in Brouilly, near Saint-Lager, and on the Côte de Brouilly, and in the Beaujolais-Villages appellation near Saint-Etienne-des-Ouillières. It's about a twenty-minute drive to the nearest parcel. The couple agree that it's more than worth the commute to have their own cellar. Previously they worked in shared cellar facilities with other métayers at the Chateau de Lacarelle. While Champier derives from an extensive winemaking family and worked six years full-time for Saint-Etienne-de-la-Varenne's influential Jean-Claude Lapalu, his career trajectory has been anything but easy. His family is vast - he has fourteen brothers and sisters - and, in terms of winemaking, very conservative.

"We're making progress," Lucca jokes. "Now when we bring natural wine to the dinner table, they don't grimace anymore."

30 March 2016

le snacking: au sauvignon, 75007

Back in early November I asked Beaujolais vigneron Karim Vionnet where he'd be spending the soirée of Beaujolais Nouveau in Paris. He said he'd be a little bit everywhere, as usual, but he'd certainly be starting the evening at (inaudible).


"Au Sauvignon," he said, audibly this time, though seemingly without any confidence that it would be an interesting occasion. He rummaged around his paperwork and found the place's card. He didn't seem to know what the restaurant was or how his wines had wound up there, let alone how he had agreed to spend the soirée of Beaujolais Nouveau there - but that may just have been Karim being Karim. My interest was piqued because there are very few places serving natural Beaujolais, or natural wine at all, in Au Sauvignon's Saint-Sulpice neighborhood, which must rank among the dowdiest in Paris. A rich grandmotherliness suffuses the air; one senses the denizens have buying power, but without the willpower to consume, in the way that the elderly, through no fault of their own, simply stop eating much at mealtimes.

I wound up visiting Au Sauvignon for a late lunch in December and was pleased to find that the restaurant, if that is what it may be called, is perfectly adapted to its neighborhood, and in such a way as to render its style of service queerly contemporary for the city at large. The menu is composed entirely of the snack foods deemed acceptable by former generations of well-to-do Parisians who probably disapprove of snacking outside the context of a tough day's shopping at Le Bon Marché. This means tartines, oysters, and omelets at all hours, with osetra caviar available for anyone having a really bad day.

28 March 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: les conscrits, villié-morgon

The most recent book published in English about Beaujolais, as far as I can tell, is British journalist Rudolph Chelminski's wishfully titled I'll Drink To That: Beaujolais & The French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular WineIt is essentially a work of Georges Duboeuf hagiography, one rendered curious for having arrived in 2007, long after Duboeuf's era of peak influence, and well into the region's contemporary market blight. Chelminski is nonetheless very astute in one passage where he compares the peculiar geographical isolation of the Beaujolais to "certain parts of Appalachia." Don't get me wrong - it's not Deliverance or anything. But the hills between Mâcon and Lyon are home to a local culture that is as colourful and strange as it is insular. I can think of no better example than the persistence, in the Beaujolais region, of the tradition popularly known as les conscrits. 

Les conscrits, or more formally, la fête des conscrits, is a ritual that originated during the Second Empire as a way to celebrate the departure of a village's youth into mandatory military service. By the 20th century it had also become an occasion to commemorate the military service of previous generations of villagers. In most towns the tradition came to include women as well as men. What happens is this: all those born in years ending in the same number as the current year (i.e. those born in 1976, 1986, 1996, etc. are those who are classed in the year of 6) raise money for a blowout block party and banquet, the dimensions of which vary according to the town in question. Some events are small, consisting only of some fanfare music and drinks at a local bar. The largest event occurs in Villefranche-sur-Saône, where the tradition is taken so seriously as continue to bar women from participation. There are dedicated church services, a massive parade, banquets, and so on over the course of several days.

Mandatory military service in France ended in 1998. But the tradition of les conscrits continues throughout Beaujolais from December through May each year, probably because it is a hell of a lot of fun. I had long been keen to experience this particular aspect of Beaujolais culture and was delighted to learn that Camille Lapierre, daughter of the late great Marcel Lapierre and a talented winemaker in her own right, was among those celebrating her conscrits in Villié-Morgon this year. She was extremely kind to invite me along to the festivities, which included floats, wigs, disco-balls, drum circles, and square-dancing hippies.

25 March 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: jean-gilles chasselay, châtillon d'azergues

About half an hour into our visit last October, larger-than-life Pierre Dorées vigneron Jean-Gilles Chasselay was serving us barrel tastes of his unusual "Cuvée de la Marduette" Beaujolais when suddenly the cellar was filled with a joltingly cacaphonic guitar solo, loud as a klaxon. I thought our glasses might shatter.

Chasselay finished serving himself a taste and then produced his cell phone, shutting the sound off. "Rory Gallagher," he explained, grinning. "Irish tour, 1974. He was a crazy guitarist. He died from drinking too much, unfortunately."

Then he went back to explaining the "Cuvée de la Marduette," a micro-cuvée that, while atypical of his family's oeuvre, nonetheless seems symbolic of Chasselay's approach to his metier. He vinifies it like a vin de garde, i.e. with a relatively long vatting, then throws it oak barrels of varying age for between one and two months. Then, at what for other wines would be the start of the process of elevage, he abruptly reassembles the wine and bottles it without filtration or sulfur addition. "The vinification's finished but the elevage isn't done. So I say it's 'poorly raised,'" he says, adding, "I like people who are poorly raised."

16 March 2016

n.d.p. in le mâconnais: le carafé, mâcon

The other day my kind friends drove us fifty minutes north of Beaujolais to taste just four wines. The wines, while well-made, were not life-changing. (The winemaker in question is, alas, a strong believer in kieselguhr filtration, which in my estimation affects gamay the way direct sunlight affects unexposed film.)

"Well," I said, sheepishly, returning to the car. "That was that."

What redeemed the morning was a visit, on the trip back, to Le Carafé in Mâcon, a charming and understated wine-centric bistrot in the shadow of the Eglise Saint Pierre. Founded by a longtime supporter of the region's natural winemakers, Patrick Pigouet, Le Carafé was sold in 2013 to young chef Damien Blaszczyk, who in addition to proposing marvelous country comfort food, has retained the character and integrity of the heavily Mâconnais / Beaujolais wine list. I'm also certifiably addicted to the restaurant's particular brand of Spanish olives, which I purchase take-out by the jarful after each meal.

02 March 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: marcel joubert, quincié

The prolific and indefatigable Marcel Joubert, arguably the most senior natural winemaker in Brouilly, made his last vintage in 2015. He's been producing ruggedly natural wines in a plethora of appellations since meeting pathbreaking Morgon winemaker Marcel Lapierre at motorcycle rallies at the end of the 1980's.

The two winemakers couldn't have more different profiles today. Lapierre, who died in 2010, is a legend, the subject of books and cartoons, perpetually fêted in the press. Joubert, alive and well, is almost a ghost by comparison. While beloved by his peers in Beaujolais and his direct clients, Joubert's larger-than-life personality, like his individual winemaking style, remains unknown to most drinkers. A fourth-generation winemaker who began his career in 1972, Joubert belongs to a previous generation of Beaujolais winemakers for whom discretion bordering on anonymity was part of the game.

As of 2016, he's handing over the reins of his domaine to his tall blonde daughter Carine, who worked in human resources before deciding to devote herself to the family business. "I'll stay as an intern," he said slyly in November in his tasting room in Quincié. "If she lets me."

08 February 2016

save this bar: jéroboam, 75011

Pity the lonely aficionado. Imagine being possessed of knowledge and good taste, in a given subject, and yet being condemned, for want of similarly-inclined fellowship, to forever share one's passion with ciphers, suits, and passers-by.

If you have imagined this, it gives you a good foretaste of the potential tragedy of 11ème wine shop and wine bar Jéroboam. Owner Vincent Fiorani made his career in manufacture of children's toys. Until opening Jéroboam last year, he indulged his passion for wine as a partner in 17ème arrondissement wine shop Coureurs de Terroirs. When that association ran its course, he decided to launch himself full-time in wine.

Jéroboam is the result. The establishment counts among its assets an excellent, Marais-adjacent location; a vast, well-priced selection of less-than-obvious wines, including many natural wines and impressive back vintages; and simple, good-value boards of charcuterie, cheese, and cured fish. All of this is, unfortunately, delivered with the earnest marketing blather of a Wall Street English program.

04 February 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: nicolas chemarin, marchampt

Expect to hear a lot of bitching and moaning about Beaujolais in 2015. Alcohol levels are abnormally high for the region, in some cases turning what ought to be elegant, light-spirited wines into the Incredible Hulk. I tasted some primeurs this year that could overturn tractor-trailers.

More recently I've tasted tank samples from various cru producers that were more encouraging: the best wines manage to integrate the heat of the vintage into a kinetic, powerful whole. Furthermore, the unusual ripeness of the vintage wasn't bad news for everyone. 

In the backwoods Beaujolais-Villages hamlet of Marchampt, young natural winemaker Nicolas Chemarin stands to benefit. Marchampt lies southwest of Régnié at the foot of the Beaujolais vert, the mountains bordering the region's west, which serve not for viticulture, but rather for hunting and goat cheese production. Marchampt is at high elevation in the shadow of a mountain range, highly exposed to the north wind, meaning it's always about 3°C cooler than Morgon or Fleurie. So a little extra ripeness shows nicely on the wines from Chemarin's Beaujolais-Villages parcels. From the highest, a 600m altitude old-vine parcel called "Le Rocher," Chemarin has since 2012 quietly been producing a minor classic of the region. 

22 January 2016

the seven sins of wine and social media

It's that time of year again. The Loire salons are approaching, and with them, the annual tempest of facile social media emissions recording an infinity of superficial encounters between historical wine cultures and contemporary social media. We're all guilty: journalists, sommeliers, retailers, importers, distributors, even a few winemakers.

Every gesture on social media is necessarily an advertisement for oneself. But there's good advertising and bad advertising. Bad self-promotion is wearisome and slowly turns us against the perpetrator. When we engage in it ourselves, it can turn us against the wine industry as a whole, which in dark moments can resemble a festering cesspit of forced enthusiasm and transactional endorsements.

In the interest of elevating the general discourse, I've assembled here a list of seven things to bear in mind before hitting "Share." You could call them the Seven Sins, but the list is assuredly incomplete. (Before anyone points it out, I'm no saint myself.)

19 January 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: anthony thévenet, villié-morgon

Almost everyone in Beaujolais has at least one nickname. To an outsider, it makes it difficult to follow conversations, because one has to remember all the variations on the ways people refer to any given local personage. (Furthermore one is sometimes unsure if one is entitled to employ all the nicknames.) Some nicknames are relatively straightforward: Morgon grand-master Jean Foillard, for example, is called, alternately, "Le P'tit Jean," a reference to his Napoleonic build, and "Jeff," a simple pronunciation of his initials.

Other nicknames are completely insane. Anthony Thévenet - no relation to Jean-Paul "Polpo" Thévenet, or any of the other more prominent local Thévenets - is an energetic, good-natured young natural winemaker who established his domaine in 2012, the same year he began working as a cellarhand for Foillard. I heard Thévenet's friend Romain Zordan refer to Thévenet as "Nioche," which, he later explained, derives originally from "Tête d'Hyène," or "Hyena's head," a comment on Thévenet's easy laughter and the sonics of his family name. "Tête d'Hyène" got abbreviated to "Hyène," which, in the programmatic Franco-slanguage Verlan, came out as "Nioche."

Easy to remember, right? Perhaps easier than the name Thévenet. At any rate, it's worth remembering Anthony Thévenet A.K.A. Nioche's name, because since 2013 he's been making some very promising Morgon's from his family's vines in the climat of Douby, and this year he's set to release his first vintage from the renowned Côte du Py.

15 January 2016

a quiet revolution: le zingam, 75011

When Voltaire-area greengrocer Le Zingam first opened in April 2014, I gave it a wide berth, because it seemed like yet another overpriced organic-locavore bear-trap. A messenger bicycle forms part of the outdoor vegetable display, while the interior's rough-hewn furniture recalls Big Sur. Proprietors Sonny Lac and Lelio Stettin are two young guys from the neighborhood whose combined food and wine experience could be recorded on the back of a short receipt. (Lac used to work at folkloric neighborhood wine bistrot Mélac.)

I first visited Le Zingam simply because it was open Sunday. It was far less expensive than I anticipated. A year or so later, I realised, in something like astonishment, that Lac and Stettin's little shop has slowly taken over my entire diet. Its products have all become staples: its trios of slender saucisses, its tomme de chèvre and its Saint Nectaire, its Sicilian clementines, its yogurt pots, its onions, its turnips and leeks, its craft beers, its natural wines. For foodstuffs I no longer shop anywhere else, save for the occasional foray to Belleville for Asian and Middle-Eastern ingredients.

In their surprisingly astute product selection and their ironclad commitment to affordability, Lac and Stettin have done something that runs up against my most basic principles as a Parisian consumer: they've created a place that supersedes the weekly street markets. Le Zingam's products are better, and just as cheap, if not cheaper.

11 January 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: romain zordan, fleurie

Claude Zordan and Romain Zordan
Such are the nuances at play within natural winemaking in Beaujolais that the two young winemakers of the two families of the Château de Grand Pré, Romain Zordan and his cousin Yann Bertrand, express very distinct voices in their work, despite organically farming the same terroir, sharing much of the same cellar and equipment, and benefitting from the advice of some of the same mentors.

The differences in the wines are to some extent a reflection of differences in age and temperament. Yann Bertrand is a better student of biodynamics. Romain Zordan gets more invitations on hunting trips. Beaujolais is all the richer for containing both approaches.

Bertrand's wines have seen rapid success with his embrace of the aforementioned farming methods and of rigorously-controlled, cool-carbonic maceration techniques. Romain Zordan, at 29 the elder of the two winemakers by a half-decade, has been slower to adopt the same practices, though he appreciates their impact and applies them in certain cases. He's a genial, salt-of-the-earth dude whose empathy with the wider Beaujolais wine community seems to moderate his work at the side of the domaine he farms with his father Claude. Yet the wines he's making are already formidable and, indeed, necessary to an understanding of the terroir of Grand Pré.

07 January 2016

the evolution of: ô divin épicerie, 75020

It took me over a year to get around to visiting restaurateur Naoufel Zaïm's miniscule gourmet shop in the high nothingsphere of Jourdain. I arrived to find that Ô Divin Epicerie - indeed, Zaïm's business overall - has undergone a few shake-ups since it opened in summer 2014.

Contrary to prior reports, Ô Divin Epicerie is not a bar, one can't show up and drink. Its take-out sandwiches have scaled down in complexity since the departure of the former chef. The bad news - or, news to me, at least - is that Zaïm shut his excellent nearby restaurant Ô Divin, and now uses the space and its kitchen only for private parties upon demand.

Hot prepared dishes are no longer regularly available at Ô Divin Epicerie, but many will be soon - from a new space just down the road, where Zaïm and his new chef Paul Houet will shortly open Ô Divin Traiteur. The epicerie, installed in a former tripe shop, will remain just what it is today: a destination for well-sourced sandwiches, cheeses, occasional vegetables, a range of Houet's house-prepared meats, and the best natural wine selection in Belleville. The latter is really an embarrassment of riches, for a neighborhood deli.

04 January 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: yann bertrand, fleurie

During pressing with Yvon and Jules Métras this September we were often joined around apéro hour by Jules' good friend Yann Bertrand, an extremely talented young Fleurie winemaker who lives a stone's throw away in Grand Pré. He often wore a vaguely pained expression when he arrived. 2015 in Beaujolais was a touch-and-go year for many winemakers, but Yann and his family suffered more than most.

"My grandfather died, we buried him, then the next day I heard that all my tanks had bret. Then my car broke down," he says, wincing. "I said to myself, 'Sometimes it’s best not even to think about it.'"

The Bertrand family shares cellar facilities with Yann's cousin and uncle, Romain Zordan and his father Claude, who make their own range of estimable natural Beaujolais under the name Château de Grand Pré. The story of the two winemaking families of the Château de Grand Pré is one I plan to explore in greater depth elsewhere. (Expect a post about the Zordans soon, too.) For now it seems worthwhile to discuss Yann Bertrand's work at at time when what many locals were calling his "beginner's luck" is being tested like never before.